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On sexual morality and marriage Dr. Ching-wa Wong Department of Applied Social Sciences Hong Kong Polytechnic University

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Presentation on theme: "On sexual morality and marriage Dr. Ching-wa Wong Department of Applied Social Sciences Hong Kong Polytechnic University"— Presentation transcript:

1 On sexual morality and marriage Dr. Ching-wa Wong Department of Applied Social Sciences Hong Kong Polytechnic University

2 Outline  Philosophical approaches to sexual morality  The naturalness argument against homosexuality  Utilitarian views on homosexuality  The liberal and communitarian views on marriage, family, and reproduction  Arguments for and against same-sex marriage

3 Approaches to Sexual Morality

4 Stances on sexual morality General approaches Political doctrinesEthical doctrines 1. Traditional view 2. Sexual Libertarianism 3. Utilitarianism 1. Liberalism 2. Libertarianism 3. Communitarianism 4. Utilitarianism Christian ethics Confucianism ‘ Naturalism ’ Freudian ethics Feminism Pluralism Nihilism …

5 Sexual liberation: Backgrounds John Stuart Mill ( )Sigmund Freud ( ) Herbert Marcuse ( )Mischel Faucault ( )

6 Debate over sexual liberation Sexual Libertarianism The traditional view The utilitarian view If coercion is not involved, there is nothing wrong with:  Homosexuality  Sexual perversion  Pornography  Prostitution Sex outside (heterosexual) marriage is wrong. The demand for sexual freedom should be balanced with other social values, so as to maximize happiness.

7 The case against Homosexuality: The naturalness arguments

8 Austere naturalism  What is unnatural is also immoral. Homosexuality and sexual perversion are unnatural. Therefore, they are immoral.

9 Unhappiness: A naturalistic argument against homosexuality  Michael Levin, ‘ Why Homosexuality is Abnormal? ’ (1984) 1. Homosexuality necessarily results in pain. 2. The pain is caused by the abuse of bodily parts. 3. The right use of the male genital depends on its evolutionary functions. 4. The right use of bodily parts is rewarding, and their misuse is painful. 5. Therefore, male homosexual acts are ‘ abnormal ’ in the sense that ‘ it leaves unfulfilled an innate and innately rewarding desire [to have intercourse]. ’ (http://www.jstor.org/discover/ / ?uid=47656&uid= &uid=2&uid=3&uid=67&uid= &uid=32458&uid=62 &sid= )http://www.jstor.org/discover/ / ?uid=47656&uid= &uid=2&uid=3&uid=67&uid= &uid=32458&uid=62 &sid=

10 Elements of the naturalness arguments 1. Aristotelian functionalism 2. Objectivist conception of happiness

11 The utilitarian rejoinder

12 Harm: the utilitarian/liberal approach  John Stuart Mill ’ s ‘ principle of harm ’ in On Liberty (1869): ‘ the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. ’ ‘ The only part of conduct of anyone for which he is amenable to society is that which concerns others. ’ ‘ In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. ’

13 Why the harm principle?  Everyone wants happiness.  But different people have different conceptions of happiness.  It is only by engaging in ‘ the experiment of living ’ that one knows what is truly happy for oneself.  Thus, we have no right to interfere with an individual ’ s decision or action unless it harms others. But children and women are not fully rational, and should be protected.

14 The case of homosexuality  Homosexuality as a private conduct.  Policy issues: non- interference, neutrality, and tolerance.  Limitation: Moral paternalism is required if people intentionally harm themselves out of ignorance.  Alternative defense of homosexuality : Peter Singer ’ s non- liberal version of utilitarianism syndicate.org/comment ary/homosexuality-is- not-immoral syndicate.org/comment ary/homosexuality-is- not-immoral

15 Liberal and Communitarian views on marriage

16 Marriage: Two political views  Liberalism (John Rawls): Marriage is a social institution regulated by the conception of justice as fairness; the form that marriage takes is grounded on our social contract, not on human nature.  Communitarianism (Michael Sandel): The meaning of marriage is connected up with our common belief in the good life; it is a matter of communal ties and not of individual choice.

17 A version of the communitarian view: the natural law theory John Finnis, ‘Marriage: A basic and exigent good’ (2008): Human nature plays an important role in shaping a society’s conception of good. Marriage’s good is bound up with the social values of procreation and friendship. Excessive individualism is a violation of the natural law. (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstr act_id= )http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstr act_id=

18 Some communitarian questions about family life  Are there any limits of our sexual freedom as conceived by our society?  What forms of sexual partnership are congenial to our common conception of the good life?  Are sex and marriage instrumental to reproduction according to this conception? Or do they form an organic whole?  What if society no longer have consensus over the issue of the good life?

19 Same-sex marriage: Arguments for and against

20 Theories and criteria: summing up  Libertarianism: Individual freedom  Liberalism: Contractual relationship; mutual respect; tolerance; individual freedom.  Utilitarianism: Overall happiness.  Communitarianism: Common conception of good; social meanings of human activities; human nature.

21 Arguments for and against same-sex marriage Against  The value of tradition  Naturalness  Harmful effects on homosexuals and other people  Human rationality For  Liberation  Maximization of Happiness  Fairness  Public reason

22 Suggestions for further reading  General ethics textbooks: Jeffrey Olen and Vincent Barry (2002), Applying Ethics, Wadsworth. Mackinnon, Barbara (2001), Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues, Wadsworth.  Political theories and ethics: Michel J. Sandel (2007), ed., Justice: A Reader, Oxford University Press. Michael J. Sandel (2009), Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  Philosophy of sex: Robert B. Baker & Kathleen J. Wininger (2009), Philosophy and Sex, New York: Prometheus Books.


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